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9.45 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. David Hanson): We have had a positive debate, to which 13 contributions have been made by a range of right hon. and hon. Members. My hon. Friends the Members for Vale of Clwyd (Mr. Ruane) and for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Smith), my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael), the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Livsey), my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Ms Morgan), my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies), my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn), the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd), my hon. Friends the Members for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Mrs. Lawrence) and for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths), the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant), the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) and my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) have all contributed.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West said, this St. David's day debate has provided an opportunity to celebrate the Celtic culture and Wales. I wish only that the hon. Member for Lichfield, who said in an intervention that he had visited Wales recently, had told us more about that visit. I am sure that as well as celebrating St. David's day, we would then have celebrated the advent of a Tory Member of Parliament in Wales, so a description of the visit would have made an interesting contribution.

I thank hon. Members for mentioning Cledwyn Hughes. I know that his death was felt strongly by Labour Members, but I appreciate the comments made by hon. Members from all parties in support of Cledwyn, his achievements and his family. Furthermore, I echo the tributes paid by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth and by the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy to Ian Spratling, who died at the weekend. I was with Ian last Wednesday at the Phoenix centre in Townhill, Swansea. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister opened the centre on Friday. I understand that that was the day of Ian's death, which occurred shortly after the presentation. I met Ian only once, but I was impressed with his work and I echo the comments that have been made.

I welcomed the speech by the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire, who said that he was retiring at the general election. I hate to disappoint him, but I remind him that that could be as far as 15 months away. I hope that we will have the opportunity for further Wales day

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debates in due course, but in case we do not have such an opportunity, I pay tribute to him now for his work in the House. In addition, I pay tribute to any other right hon. or hon. Members who are retiring. I refer especially to Labour Members, several of whom are retiring at the general election.

Mr. Fabricant: Voluntarily?

Mr. Hanson: They are doing so voluntarily.

I remind the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) that as recently as Thursday last week, an opinion poll conducted in Wales showed that Labour had 52 per cent. of support. The Tories had 22 per cent., the nationalists 14 per cent. and the Liberals 10 per cent. I hate to inform the hon. Gentleman that that means that at least 34 Labour Members will be elected at the next general election. I was disappointed by his contribution, which contained no vision and no apology, but merely disappointment. There was nothing about another term for a Conservative Government. All that he said was that many Labour Members and Welsh Members in general would be second class Members of Parliament. Of course, he does not represent a Welsh constituency, and there would be only second class Members of Parliament under a Conservative Government.

Mr. Martyn Jones: Do the percentages to which my hon. Friend referred mean that there will yet again be no Tory Members of Parliament representing Wales?

Mr. Hanson: My hon. Friend is correct; there will be no Tory Members in Wales. However, I suspect that that will have nothing to do with opinion polls, but with, for example, the 2000 spending review and the outstanding settlement for Wales. My hon. Friends have mentioned that, and it is important that I refer to it in a review of the year. An increase in expenditure in Wales from £7 billion to £10 billion by 2003-04 represents a real increase for public services. Many hon. Friends have mentioned that important investment in, for example, health and education.

The hon. Member for North Dorset (Mr. Walter) and the hon. Member for Ribble Valley have complained about waiting lists, education spending and a range of other issues. It is important to ask them where Conservative Members would make cuts if they formed a Government in future. It is no use saying that there are great difficulties without committing expenditure, as the Government are doing, to resolving them. There will be a genuine choice in the election, whenever it happens, between public investment in our public services and reductions in such investment.

Several other key issues were mentioned. For example, my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli and my hon. Friends the Members for Bridgend, for Vale of Glamorgan and for Vale of Clwyd referred to unemployment, which has decreased in the 40 constituencies in Wales, thanks to the manufacturing base, the new deal, low inflation and stability.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth said, recorded crime in Wales decreased by more than 10 per cent. in the 12 months ending in September 2000. In that period, it fell by nearly 5 per cent. in Dyfed-Powys, 7.2 per cent. in Gwent, and

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16.9 per cent. in south Wales. Crime has risen slightly in north Wales, but between May 1997 and September 2000 there were an extra 146 officers on the beat in Wales. That is a genuine investment.

Plaid Cymru Members mentioned Corus, among other matters. I appreciate that they, like Labour Members, have strong feelings about that, and many points have been made about manufacturing. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said on many occasions, a range of difficulties exist, but I ask hon. Members and people outside: who do we trust to handle those problems in future? Would we trust a Government of the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), the right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Portillo) and the hon. Member for Ribble Valley or that of the Prime Minister and the Chancellor? There is still time for Corus to reconsider its decision. I hope that, in due course, and after pressure from my right hon. Friend, it will do that.

Let us consider the minimum wage. Labour Members welcome today's announcement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry of an increase to £4.10. My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend and the hon. Member for Lichfield mentioned the minimum wage. Let us be clear in our St. David's day debate about the reason for the increase to £4.10. My hon. Friends and I voted for it whereas the majority of other hon. Members did not.

As my hon. Friends have mentioned, more than 60,000 people in Wales benefit from the working families tax credit. Pensioners are benefiting from the winter fuel allowance, which my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Clwyd mentioned, and we are helping the poorest pensioners in our community.

I am pleased that the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy welcomed the actions of the Minister for Energy and Competitiveness in Europe, my hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr. Hain), on miners' compensation. A total of £29 million has been paid--we are aware of the issues that affect compensation recovery, which my hon. Friend and other colleagues are considering.

My hon. Friend the Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire and others made important points about foot and mouth disease. The hon. Member for Ceredigion again made a thoughtful contribution about farming and rural affairs. Foot and mouth disease has led to a devastating series of incidents, but I hope that my hon. Friends the Members for Vale of Clwyd, for Cynon Valley and for Preseli Pembrokeshire and the hon. Member for Ceredigion will welcome the strong action that the Government have taken to stop livestock movements until at least 16 March to help to contain and eradicate the disease. I hope that hon. Members will also welcome the new scheme to license the movement of animals to abattoirs or to holding centres, and the Government's commitment to provide the full resources of the state veterinary service--some 1,300 strong--to support farmers during this crisis.

I shall certainly look into the point raised by hon. Friend the Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire. As she mentioned, more than £150 million worth of agrimonetary compensation has been made available to the beef, sheep and dairy sectors, in addition to the £18 million worth of

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compulsory agrimonetary compensation that has been made available to support the industry at this difficult time.

Hon. Members will welcome the fact that, to date, some 12 approved red meat abattoirs in Wales have been granted approval to slaughter under the Foot and Mouth Disease (Declaratory Control) (England and Wales) Order of this week, and they are now available to help with animals that need to be slaughtered under licensed control. They range from operations in north Wales--in Corwen, Amlwch, Llanrwst, Machynlleth, Caernarfon and Wrexham--through Powys in mid-Wales to Swansea, Llanelli, Lampeter, and Tregaron, in the constituency of the hon. Member for Ceredigion.

Mr. Livsey: Will the Minister inform us as soon as he knows when his right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will come forward with a solution to the problems of moving in-lamb ewes and calving cows to safety? That is a huge problem at the moment in rural Wales.

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